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The intriguing myths behind your favourite gemstones

We all love a good story, but as a gemmologist I’m particularly fascinated by gemstone myths.  Each time I hear a new story, it makes me see the gem in a different light.  Here are some of my favourites…

Amethyst: Did you know that the word amethyst comes from the ancient Greek word for sober? Being a February baby, amethyst has always been one of my favourite gemstones, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that amethysts were believed by the ancient Greeks to prevent drunkenness Even the god of wine, Dionysus, was said to carry one.  I wonder whether the gemstone’s wine-like purple colour was thought to somehow ‘absorb’ the ill effects of a particularly strong vintage.  However much the ancient Greeks believed in the sobering powers of amethyst though, I don’t recommend you use it in place of a designated driver!

Opal: This lovely gemstone myth feels very timely as my new book Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in Australia, which focuses on opals, comes out in January 2019.  The Australian Aboriginal peoples have many wonderful tales to tell about Australia’s national gemstone, but this one really speaks to me!  Back in the time of The Dreaming, when our ancestral spirits roamed the lands, the Creator came down to earth on a rainbow with a message of peace.  The rocks where he stood took on the rainbow’s colours and became the beautiful opal.

Adamant – diamond : The word diamond comes from its ancient name, adamant – a word which unsurprisingly now means ‘unyielding’.  Though diamond is now the most popular gemstone to use in an engagement ring as a sign of eternal love, it has some rather violent myths behind it!  In Greek mythology Cronus used an adamantine sickle to castrate his father Uranus!  And Greek hero Perseus decapitated the gorgon Medusa with an adamantine sword.

Peridot: This gemstone myth comes all the way from the South Seas.  In Hawaiian culture, Pele is the passionate and wild goddess of fire and volcanos.  Known also as ‘she who shapes the sacred land’, Pele has the power to create and destroy.   Beautiful green peridot, found in the pumice and ash spewed out by Hawaii’s volcanoes, is said to a gift left behind by the goddess as a symbol of her power to give as well as destroy – the locals call the sparkling green gemstones ‘Pele’s diamonds.’

Pearls: So many gemstone myths feature pearls that it would be difficult to list them all here!   They’re often given watery associations.  Last year, when researching Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in Sri Lanka, I came across the myth of Adam’s Peak—a mountain in the centre of the country, said to be where Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.  The tears they cried solidified into pearls—Eve’s white and Adam’s black.  Black pearls are said to be rarer than white because Adam, being a man, shed fewer tears!

Kim Rix – Gemstone Detective

Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence.

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